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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 4

Hampton's Commentary on Selected BooksHampton's Commentary

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Verses 1-2

A Lesson On Rest Learned from Israel’s Failure

Though the children of Israel failed to enter the promised rest, a promise of rest still remains for those in Christ. Remember, in 3:15 the writer quoted Psa_95:1-11 which shows Christ’s disciples have a promise of entering God's rest today. It must, however, also be remembered that Christians can fall short just as surely as did Israel ( Heb_4:1 ).

Both physical and spiritual Israel have heard the gospel preached. Milligan says this would be better translated, "for we are evangelized as well as they." So, the promise of entering into rest is ours, as Christians, as well as theirs, as Israelites. God's word was heard by them, but it was to no avail since they fell into unbelief. Their failure, according to the writer of Hebrews, resulted from an unbelief which was produced by their failing to hear the word of God with faith ( Heb_4:2 ; Num_13:1-33 ).

Verses 3-8

God’s Rest Is Limited to the Faithful

The promise of entering God's rest is affirmed for all who believe, yet God’s wrath would not allow those who rebelled in the wilderness to enter in ( Psa_95:11 ). As Thompson states, "The expression, from the foundation of the world, is used frequently in the New Testament ( Mat_13:35 ; Luk_11:50 ; Heb_9:26 ). The phrase suggests the eternity of God's plan of salvation, which was conceived before all ages and will be fulfilled in the last time" (cf. Eph_1:4 ; 2Ti_1:9 ; 1Pe_1:20 ). The phrase thus refers logically to the creation story of Gen_1:1-31 ; Gen_2:1-25 and the time before it. Apparently rest has been an idea inherent in the world since the resting of God in Gen_2:2 . God, at that time, entered into rest, and instituted the Sabbath rest. As the quotation from Psa_95:11 shows, God’s rest is reserved for those who are truly faithful in service to God ( Heb_4:3-5 ).

Though some did not enter in because of unbelief, the promise still remained for faithful Israelites. All of the first generation, except Joshua and Caleb, died in the wilderness because of their unfaithfulness. Joshua and Caleb were part of those who were to have rest because they were faithful. Some of the unfaithful were killed as late as during the encampment at Baal-Peor, just prior to the crossing of the Jordan ( Num_25:1-18 ). However, it would seem that faithful and unfaithful alike entered into Canaan, the land of promised rest, during the second generation. The supposed dilemma is solved by a quote from Psa_95:7-11 , which shows that in David's day, despite the fact that they were already in the promised land, the people had to be warned against the sin of unbelief, lest they fail to enter the promised rest. It must be kept in mind that Canaan was only a type of the heavenly land of rest to come. Too, emphasis is placed on the word "today," because the promise of rest is available now. Joshua took the children of Israel into Canaan, but that physical rest did not completely satisfy. Thus, David spoke of the Canaan which completely satisfies, or heaven ( Heb_4:6-8 ).

Verses 9-11

Pursuing God’s Rest

Then, over and above the types of rest found under the old covenant, there remains a promise of God's rest for those who are obedient ( Heb_4:9-10 ). This rest was spoken of by Jesus in Mat_11:28-30 , and is, indeed, the reason Christ came to earth. The rest has been entered into by some and those who enter do not have to worry with the labor and cares of this world any more. The idea is a rest at the completion of one's life work ( 2Ti_4:6-8 .) Lightfoot writes, "As God in the beginning entered his sabbath, they too will enter theirs--'that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them'" ( Rev_14:13 ).

Since we know the rest does await us, we ought to work diligently to obtain it ( Heb_4:11 ; 2Pe_1:10 .) The writer urged his readers to be diligent in their pursuit of the promised rest. In using the word translated “diligent,” he was describing a hastening to do a thing and a use of all of one's might. If we fail to give our all to attain the goal, we have the bad example of the Israelites which shows us we will fall.

Verses 12-13

God Sees Us As We Are Some might think they can deceive God by pretending to be diligent. However, His powerful insight into the depths of man’s soul is clearly seen in a full understanding of the nature of His word. So, the author next turned to a discussion of the word and the God who delivered it. He spoke of the "word of God" which Peter says is the incorruptible seed by which we are to be born (4:12; 1Pe_1:23 ). It is the seed of the kingdom ( Luk_8:11-15 ). By the hearing of it faith can be gained ( Rom_10:17 ), without which one cannot be pleasing to God ( Heb_11:6 ). If one will hear it, he can obtain blessing ( Luk_11:28 ). The "word of God" was that which was delivered by Jesus and should dwell richly in the heart of the Christian ( Joh_17:8 ; Joh_17:14 ; Joh_17:17 ; Col_3:16 ). By it we can find our salvation ( Joh_5:24 ; Act_20:32 ). It was this "word" that Timothy was to deliver ( 1Ti_4:5-6 ; 2Ti_4:1-5 ). However, the "word" is worthless to anyone who refuses to work the works it tells him to do ( Jam_1:18-25 ). That word would be the good news that was carried to the entire world upon the instruction of Jesus ( Mat_28:18-20 ; Mar_16:15-16 ; Luk_24:47-49 ).

The writer said this word is alive and powerful, meaning that it carries a forceful, living message today. The word, which is the sword of the Spirit ( Eph_6:17 ), is so sharp that it can divide the very "essence of man." That word is also able to discern, or judge, a man’s very purpose in life. It can cause one to be seen as he really is since it reveals his very thoughts and feelings. It is really no wonder that this word has such powers, since God, who had that word written, is able to see all things, nothing being secret from him. This is the God with whose word we have to deal ( Heb_4:13 ).

Verses 14-16

The High Priest Gives Strength to Continue to The Rest The strength of the foundation of the Christian’s confession is further indicated by the High Priest that is his. He is Jesus Christ the Son of God, who has already passed through the heavens and is in the ultimate place of glory, being with God. He is there to make intercession for His disciples ( Heb_4:14 ; Heb_7:25 ). He is a glorious High Priest who is loving, compassionate and understands the feelings and weaknesses with which people are confronted. He really understands temptation more fully than men since He met and overcame it ( Heb_4:15 ; Joh_8:29 ; Joh_8:46 ; Joh_10:32 ; 2Co_5:21 ; 1Pe_2:22 ; 1Jn_3:5 ).

For all the reasons previously mentioned, Christians should have no fear as they approach their High Priest and ask for help in a time of need. Under Moses’ law, only the priests could “draw near” to God. However, under the covenant of Christ, every believer is a priest and the way to the “throne of grace” is opened to all ( Heb_4:16 ).

Bibliographical Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Hebrews 4". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghc/hebrews-4.html. 2014.
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